I’ve taught abroad and at home for many years, and one of the things that remains constant is the relationship between parent and teacher. If you want to get the best out of your students, you need to listen to their parents too.
Balancing different expectations
Parents around the world want their kids to get a good education and have a better job than they did. This is great if the child shares their aspirations, but a disaster if they yearn to do something different. Teachers have the sometimes tricky role of mediating between parental hopes and student dreams. It’s a good idea to remind the parent that interest in a subject goes a long way towards guaranteeing success. At the same time encourage their child to consider subject choices which give them broader options. So for example if music is their passion, suggest they aim for a music/education focus which would allow them to teach if their rock career doesn’t take off.
Another problem occurs when parents underestimate their child’s abilities. If a parent was particularly brilliant in science or math, and the child less so, some parents think this means the child should focus on other subject areas. If the student is keen on the subject, the teacher might suggest extra tuition, bearing in mind that academically successful parents can find it hard to accept their child is less naturally gifted. Taking everyone’s feelings into account ensures the child the best chance of being happy and successful at school.
Don’t think everyone think like you do
Raised by a strong mom in a country where gender equality is written into law, it was a big shock teaching in a country where different rules applied. I decided to show my students that women deserve equal respect and are just as capable as men. Although not every student I taught accepted this, I made sure they followed the rules while in my classroom. From experience I found that if a controversial issue comes up in class it’s best to approach it obliquely. When a student tells you their father thinks girls who go to university never marry and you don’t agree, give an example from your life or of one your friends, and then move on with the lesson. Saying outright you think their father is wrong will only lose you the respect of your students and the possibility of support from their parents. You can only teach by example, and hope what you say and do rubs off on them.
You’re their teacher not their parent.
In many cultures around the world, students feel their teacher is another parent. Consequently the students think if the teacher doesn’t like them, they’re justified if they fail because it’s the teachers fault for not caring enough. Although the boundaries of teacher/student relationships are much more firmly fixed in the US, kids still often believe they can manipulate their teachers in the same way they do their parents. When this doesn’t work and the child complains to their parents, emotion can override logic. Parents both abroad and at home often take their child’s side without looking at the facts. It helps to remind them that you and they both want the same thing for their child concerning their education, with one difference. The parents’ role is to nurture and love their child, and yours is to educate and adhere to rules and regulations which may seem harsh. Affirming the importance of both roles allows all parties to participate equally in deciding what to do at home and in the classroom to help their child improve their academic performance.
Discipline doesn’t have to hurt to be effective
Shockingly, heavy-handed discipline such as caning students or painful ear twisting and flicking still goes on in some countries. Order is instilled through fear, and is seen as the best way of keeping large classes under control. Even in the US, many parents will remember teachers who frightened them into being obedient and not to question what they were learning. These days, kids are taught via a much more participatory approach. When they make mistakes, which they will because they’re still learning about life, the consequences of their actions are explained and they are encouraged to take responsibility for what they’ve done. For parents whose experience was different, it can be hard to accept that this approach will actively impact on their child’s behaviour. However studies show that over time, children shut off to the effects of harsh punishment. In contrast, regular discussions about the reasons and impact of their behaviour allow children, along with their parents, to agree on a set of behaviours that are appropriate in class and at home.
Why don’t my children learn the way I did?
Nowadays teachers use a student-centred approach to learning, which means finding out what the students already know, and then giving them tools, strategies and resources to develop their skills. A teacher is a facilitator rather than a font of all knowledge. Many of the students I taught overseas learned by listening to the teacher and copying information from the board. Multiple choice tests clearly determined the rate of progress according to how much knowledge the students could output. This kind of education doesn’t take into account the fact that different students learn at different rates and through diverse styles.
Parents in the US who have similar educational backgrounds might think their children’s teacher does not actually ‘teach’ their kids anything, especially if their child seems to be progressing in fits and starts. It’s important to make parents feel comfortable in expressing concerns and to make time to fully explain the reasons for the teaching methods now in use. This will go a long way to winning their support at home. If the parents send the kids off to research a question or work together with them on a project, rather than simply providing the answers for them, it will reinforce what you do in the classroom.
Parents have a lot to say about the way you teach their kids and if you know how to listen, they can be a great addition to your team.